Can you skip purgatory and go straight to heaven?


Question: Much of Catholic teaching and literature focuses on nearly every one of us going to purgatory directly after death instead of heaven. Clearly, some of us live more devout lives than others, but does anyone actually go directly to heaven?

— Name withheld, North Hills, California

Answer: We ought to begin by recalling the promise made to us by the Lord Jesus: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). This is not a threat; it is a promise. When the Lord’s cross and grace have had their full effect, we will not just have a human perfection but a Godly perfection. St. Paul says, “[We are] confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). He also writes, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus [Christ]” (1 Cor 1:8).

It is hard to imagine that most of us, even very saintly people, die in a state of utter and godly perfection. Along with venial, habitual sins, many of us carry hurts, sorrows and pains that are not fully healed. Scripture says of the dead that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rv 21:4). We can’t bring sorrows of any kind to heaven; it wouldn’t be heaven. These things need to be purged.

Hence, while it is possible to go straight to heaven, it seems more plausible that most of us will need a bit of finishing work and some tears wiped from our eyes. St. Paul speaks of a kind of fiery judgment that we will all pass through on the day of judgment. The fire will both test and purify our works (cf. 1 Cor 3:13). God is very holy and perfect, and possessed of a joy beyond telling. Hence, even our great saints may have needed something to bring them to this utter and godly perfection we can barely imagine.

God alone knows and judges every soul. And, while we know that the canonized saints are surely in heaven now, it does not mean they needed no purification after death. God alone knows this.


This article comes to you from Our Sunday Visitor courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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